Note From The Commissioner: Proud to Serve Baltimore
Friday Oct 12th, 2018
Four years ago, I was given the incredible opportunity to serve as the Baltimore City Health Commissioner. It was my dream job, and I have been so proud to work with the women and men at the Health Department on the frontlines of public health. Through the leadership of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Mayor Catherine E. Pugh and with the help of partners across the City, we have made significant strides in improving health and combatting disparity.
We understand that our North Star is our most vulnerable residents, including women, children, families, and older adults. Our B’more for Healthy Babies program engaged more than 150 public and private partners to decrease infant mortality by nearly 40% in the last seven years. We also closed the disparity between black and white infant mortality by more than 50% and dropped teen birth rates by 61%. We adopted a citywide youth health and wellness strategy that included life-changing interventions like providing eye exams and glasses to every child who needs them.
We also know that it is never an option to say “it’s not my job”—we take action now. We are combatting the opioid epidemic with an aggressive strategy to prevent overdose and treat addiction. I issued a blanket prescription for the opioid overdose antidote naloxone in 2015, and since then, everyday residents have used naloxone to save nearly 3,000 lives. We opened a first-of-its-kind Stabilization Center that serves as a 24/7 ER for addiction and mental health, and we became the first city in the country to work with hospitals to implement “Levels of Care” best practices for addiction treatment. In collaboration with Behavioral Health Systems Baltimore and our partners in public safety, we also started the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program to provide treatment rather than incarceration.
We have doubled down on our mission to strengthen our core public health functions. This includes providing best-in-class HIV, STD, hepatitis, and tuberculosis services in our clinics; preparing for outbreaks like measles, Ebola, and Zika; and preventing food-borne illness through environmental inspections. I’m proud of our innovative work to prevent falls among older adults, to expand virtual supermarkets and health corner stores to reduce food deserts, and to pilot innovations such as telemedicine and trauma-informed care. Throughout all of our efforts, we engage partners—traditional partners of hospitals and clinics (such as our $4 million CMS grant to start Accountable Health Communities), corporations (such as our Billion Step Challenge), startups (such as TECHealth), and community organizations (such as our $5 million grant for trauma services in West Baltimore).
We have not been afraid to take on difficult fights. The City of Baltimore sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services when they cut funding for teen pregnancy prevention education. We won, and we restored funding for our 20,000 youth to continue receiving evidence-based education. We also sued the Trump administration for intentionally and willfully sabotaging the Affordable Care Act, we spoke out against cuts to Title X family planning grants, and we refused to accept insufficient federal funding for the problems that need addressing.
As I mentioned on Tuesday’s segment of WYPR’s “Midday,” our team is innovative and scrappy because we must do a lot with very little. I am proud of the recognitions that we have received for our work, including our award as Local Health Department of the Year from the National Association of City and County Health Officials. I know that our team will continue to fight for health and social justice and to provide critical services to the most vulnerable members of our communities.
A core principle of public health is “go where there is the greatest need.” At this time in our history, the one need that rises above them all is the threat to women’s health and the health of our most vulnerable communities. For the last 100 years, no one has done more for women’s health than Planned Parenthood, and that’s where I need to be.
I leave today with much mixed emotion. The Health Department will be in excellent hands with Interim Health Commissioner Mary Beth Haller. Our exceptional team will continue do the work of public health.
It’s been the honor of my life to serve alongside you as your Baltimore City Health Commissioner. I will always be thankful to you for your hard work, your dedication, and your partnership in our work to improve health and fight disparities.
With all my best wishes,
Leana Wen, M.D., M.Sc.